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Ahead of Obamacare Deadline, Austin Nonprofit Rushes to Help Last Minute Sign-Ups

Elizabeth Colvin of Insure Central Texas helps Obamacare consumers at the Foundation Communities Highland Mall center on March 27, 2014.

The White House says it’s reached its goal of getting six million people signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace.

But so far, only a fraction of the uninsured in Texas has signed up.

A March 31 deadline looms to at least begin an application for health insurance. Most without insurance after the deadline will have to pay a tax penalty. To help people avoid that, nonprofits in Austin are keeping their doors open late to help last-minute customers.

A lot of these last-minute customers have been lining up in the last two weeks of the Foundation Communities center at Highland Mall.

Elizabeth Colvin is the director of the nonprofit's Insure Central Texas, a campaign to help people navigate She says the number of people coming in these last two weeks of March has soared.

"We’re seeing close to 200 people a day, just at Highland Mall," Colvin says.

Before, roughly 50 to 60 people would come in each day. Application counselors are staying at the center as late as 10 at night to get to people on a waiting list -- people like Melissa Condon.

"We actually got here about 10:30 in the morning, so I recommend getting here about 9 if you don’t want to wait for six hours," Condon says. "Because I finally got out of here around 6, but the actual process of sitting down with the counselor -- it took about an hour."

She finished the process two days ago and says difficulty coordinating her work schedule with her husband’s is why they waited until the last minute, but she says she’s glad she did it.

"I got a Humana Silver Connect plan, and it's...I believe about $223 a month to cover myself and my husband, which was much more affordable than the catastrophic insurance that was being offered to me through our old payroll company that we just got rid of," she says.

Others are less thrilled about getting health insurance. People like Jimmy Torres from Austin, who hasn’t had insurance since "forever" ago, he says.

"I really don’t want the insurance. I feel like I’m being forced to get something I don’t want," Torres says. "But if I don’t, I get penalized. So, it’s like, strong arm..."

Cara James is the director of the office of minority health at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. She encourages people like Torres to finish the entire application process.

"I know that a number of individuals may be concerned about the cost of insurance," James says. "We know that 8 in 10 of the individuals who have enrolled in coverage via the marketplace have been determined eligible to receive financial assistance to help lower the cost of their insurance."

Those that have at least started the enrollment process by Monday will have some extra time. Last week, the White House announced those in the process would have as much as 60 days to finish – without paying a penalty.

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